Hans J Massaquoi with a Nazi Swastika on his jumper
Hans J Massaquoi with a Nazi Swastika on his jumper

I have successfully managed to put off writing a blog for a good few years. Too many things to do, self-indulgent etc. However, a recent conversation with a fellow teacher (Dai Barnes) made me change my mind. I mentioned some of the things I was planning to do in my lessons over the next few weeks over twitter. Dai, being the supportive soul that he is, said I should log the process so other people could learn from it. So this is what I have decided to do!

I always wish I could get my students to read more History. I may have cracked it with my A2 class (as they have been set a book to review) but generally it does not work with my students lower down the school. We do have a History Book Club and many students join in but I would ideally want the students to get really excited about what they read. A possible solution to this problem came from a conversation with one of my IB students and Doug Belshaw. My IB student told me about Hans J Massaquoi, the son of Liberian father and German mother who lived in Hamburg during the Third Reich and was not sent to a concentration camp. I was surprised. Knowing what the Nazis felt about the children descended from the African French forces in the Ruhr area in the 1920s, how could I not be? When I found the book on Amazon, I was in for another surprise. Amongst the white faces on the front cover was a lone dark face with a Nazi symbol on his jumper. I immediately thought the picture would be a great starter for my lesson on Nazi racial ideas but as I started to read this Swastika wearing boy’s life story, I thought it could be used for something more.  I then did what most people do when they want to find more information – I googled him. There was an entry on Wikipedia but it was  a basic entry with little detail about his extraordinary life. I then thought it would be exciting story to tell my students but a conversation with my friend, co-worker and fellow conspirator Doug Belshaw changed my mind. What if I got the students to fill in the details? They would be reading for a purpose. Result. They would also be writing with a purpose and making a contribution to knowledge rather than just making sure they got full marks on a ‘developed statements’ question. They would be ‘doing’ History.

Doug’s suggestion created more questions, especially in terms of making it pedagogically viable. If there is one thing I have learned when using any tool to get my students to think, it is that I should think about how they will use it to get my desired goal. A key question was how I could manage the process and check that everyone contributed in some way? Moodle came to mind. We are currently running a trial at the school and I have been aching to try out the Wiki tool. This seemed like an excellent opportunity and although it seemed best to use Moodle to create groups to work on the wiki in my class, at the History Department meeting today it was agreed that each class would compete against each other with the winning class providing the entry for Wikipedia. I’m really excited to see what happens. More to the point, my class are amazed. I simply sold it to them that they could be helping people across the world to write their homework tasks on Hans J Massaquoi for years to come. They seemed happy about that. Wikipedia, of course, is the fountain of all knowledge. :)

Front image: The Wall of Knowledge by Vanhookc @ Flickr

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